14/06/2016No Comments

Virtual Reality is here!

Virtual reality is here, and there's no hiding from it!

As we all know, the tech world doesn't stand still, new devices and innovations are constantly being brought to the market place, and it's very easy to become overwhelmed by the constant stream of new tech. However one area of technology we're very keen to get our hands dirty with is Virtual Reality!

Virtual Reality Headset VR 3D

For those who are less acquainted with the concept, virtual reality is essentially a way to immerse yourself in digital environments and content, via a wearable headset. In the past, the term "virtual reality" has been used for numerous 3D based ideas, such as interactive walk-thoughs, but it is now being commonly used in context with the headsets.

Anyway, why are we excited by it? Well firstly we love new tech! And secondly I believe this is a step towards fully 3D content for everyone. 3D TVs came and have almost gone (fantastic!), and virtual reality should be the next big thing.

There are many headsets on the market now, such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but the one we have gone for is the Gear VR. Out of those 3 we have perhaps chosen the least powerful, weaker graphics, and not quite the cheapest even, but what it does have is the ability to go anywhere, it's fully mobile, literally.

The Gear VR is essentially a Samsung smart phone (ours is the Galaxy S7), coupled together with the gear VR headset. The viewer inserts their phone into the headset, and straps on the Gear VR, and they are immersed into Virtual Reality! The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift both need to be connected to a powerful PC, for which gaming is a must, but we feel this limitation will be a huge sticking point for a lot of casual users.

Virtual Reality Headset VR 3D Samsung Gear

The Gear VR Headset.

Most people now have smart phones, and just about any modern Android phone can be turned into a virtual reality headset with either the Gear VR or Google Cardboard, and I'm sure the likes of Apple and Microsoft won't be too long in releasing their own versions.

So what can you do with a virtual reality headset? The easiest, and perhaps one of the most interesting things to do is go and watch some amazing 360 videos. Youtube, Facebook and others now host 360. There are also 100s of apps and games to play and use, from simply watching Netflix in virtual reality, to engaging, playing and meeting people in virtual social worlds; even Facebook has plans to turn their social network into a VR experience!

But what about what we plan to do with VR and the Samsung Gear? Firstly we're going to have some fun! We're going to fire up some VR apps, watch some 360 videos, and research (yes researching can be fun!), and we'll see what grabs us, and what doesn't. There's no point in diving straight in and producing content that either doesn't work, doesn't engage, or isn't useful.

After that we'll know more about the direction we want to go in. At the moment we see two paths, 360 video, and interactive environments. 360 video is become quite well established, with YouTube and Facebook both supporting 360 videos natively inside a web browser (essentially all you do is load the page, and the video will play, so no need for any software downloads). 360 videos are relatively straight forward to create, similar in a way a CGI image or animation is created, however ensuring the user is engaged, entertained and even guided by the content will be just as important as the content itself.

Interactive environments and worlds are more complex to create, and are quite comparable to computer gaming and interactive walk-thoughts. An entire environment is created, and the user can play, explore or even learn through interacting with the virtual content. How the user interacts depends purely on how the game or app is created. With some apps you can look at an object, and press the button on the side of the headset to "click" the object, and other you may need a gaming controller to move easily though the world.

Both 360 videos and interactive environments have their pros and cons, and as I've already mentioned, once we've done our research and had chance to digest what we think works and what doesn't, we'll then start to take steps to produce demos and really get our hands dirty!

For now, all I can say is we're excited and really can't wait to get stuck in and start creating brilliant VR experiences!

Dean

01/04/2016No Comments

360° Video Gives us a View into Pre-historic Life!

360° video gives us a view into pre-historic life!

360° video is on the rise, and it's becoming a fascinating way to engage with viewers. The technology is very new, and as such people don't quite know the best way to use it, or even produce it, but this 360° video is one of the best examples I have seen so far. David Attenborough stars in the video where a giant dinosaur appears to walk past him, but the beauty of using a 360° video is that it allows the viewer to look around and really feel like you're there.

The video is hosted on Youtube, which is brilliant as it's accessible on PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones, so go ahead and watch the video.

If you're on a PC use the mouse to click and drag on the video to look around, and if you're on a phone or tablet, hold the device up and turn around (and ignore the odd look from others!).

If you're using a smart phone and the YouTube app you may have noticed this symbol in the bottom right corner...

google cardboard vr headset 360 interactive

When watching the video on your phone, clicking this button will make the video will split in 2, which allows the user to strap on their VR headset, such as the Google Cardboard or Gear VR and fully immerse themselves in the 360° video, brilliant right? OK it might take some time to get use to viewing content this way, but it is fun, trust me!

Anyway, back to the video. In my opinion what this video does, which other 360° videos perhaps haven't quite mastered yet, is the ability to direct the views whilst telling a story. Other  360° videos they can be visually great, but not really engaging or have any purpose. Take for example the Star Wars 360° video; it looks great, and ties in well with the movie release, but it really doesn't tell a story, and as such it doesn't engage with the viewer. You don't know where you should be looking, and as CGI nerd I find myself picking apart the 3D and finding errors, which if I was engaged I may not initially notice. Others might simply just stop the video after 10 seconds, either way it hasn't fully reached its potential.

When we create 360° videos we will have to be very mindful to engage the viewers. With 360° videos the user can look anywhere, so directing the viewers without being forceful will be the key to a successful video. Creating beautiful videos and CGI won't be enough, and although the technical challenge to create visually great videos is the first hurdle, it wont be long before 360° videos are mainstream, and we'll see where content and story telling really set the good and bad videos apart.

360° videos, I hope, are here to stay, and only time will tell just how successful and useful they can be. We're working on plans and ideas to bring 360° videos to our services, we're already experts in creating virtual environments, so the next step is to take our expertise from 2D images and animations to 360° videos and other virtual reality content. We've already tested the Google Cardboard and YouTube 360° video with this little interior apartment test, and we have plans to create something quite exciting, so watch this space!

Dean

 

11/11/2015No Comments

360 Degree Video Test – 3D Interior Apartment

Earlier this year YouTube made it possible to upload 360 degree videos! If you don't know what they are, 360 videos enable the viewer to look around the space, as if they were there, whilst the video is playing!

I wanted to see what the possibilities could be for CGI and 3D rendered environments, I'm always interested in new tech, and different ways of doing things, so it made sense to spend some time investigating, testing and developing.

The video below is the test video I produced. It's a very simple interior room set, with a basic camera movement forwards and backwards, but that's all I need for this test. When you play the video it will play just like a normal YouTube video, however if you click and drag (if you're on a PC browser) on the video you'll be able to look around the 3D environment! Give it a go....

The video can also be viewed on Youtube here.

If however you are viewing the video on the YouTube app on your smart phone (I have a HTC One M8), then hold the camera as if taking a picture of a wall, and move the phone to look around! It really is quite amazing!!

However the fun doesn't stop there, whilst in the YouTube app, you'll possibly see the Google Cardboard logo, and if you have a Google Cardboard (if you don't, jump on Amazon and order one for around £15!), click the Cardboard logo, and now you can view the video in the Google Cardboard head set!

Google Cardboard VR Headset Interactive

The Google Cardboard.

So what does this all this mean? Creating demos like this are always extremely valuable to do, they allow me to test, experiment, fail and play with something new and exciting, and that's half of the reason why I love the industry I work in!

But does it have any practical future applications? I'm sure when it comes to presenting content to users, more immersive and engaging content is going to be a massive plus to any project. I don't see why an architect couldn't use a 360 degree video to present their new building, or instructors aid their students with more engaging training, or even being able to watch a theatre performance as if stood in the centre of the stage!

The possibilities are endless! Of course there has to be a purpose to using 360 videos, in some applications it just wouldn't add anything, but in many situations I see the potential use of 360 videos to push video and user engagement to the next level!

02/11/2015No Comments

Augmented / Virtual Reality Command Centre Concept

New tech excites me, and this augmented / virtual reality project created for BAE Systems is something I'm massively impressed with. In an episode of Click, a BBC tech based show, they look at how augmented and virtual reality work in partnership to give the user a huge amount of control by immersing the user into a virtual world.

The video can be watched on the iplayer here -

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06bbm1g/click-05092015

The command centre uses a mix of new technology, with perhaps the most recognisable tech being the Oculus Rift (the large head set), but the command centre also takes advantage of gloves, cameras, and other interfaces to allow the users to view, control and interact with the virtual world.

VR AR Command Centre Virtual Reality Augmented Reality

Mixing virtual reality with augmented reality has been used to great effect, in this case the wooden table is used not only to project the virtual world onto, but also to give the user something real to touch. I imagine it's also very useful for resting the users hands, as hovering in mid-air can soon become quite tiring.

VR AR Command Centre Virtual Reality Augmented Reality

The augmented virtual world is mainly projected onto the table, however other 3D objects are visible away from the table, such as the fighter jet, and the personal assistant.

VR AR Command Centre Virtual Reality Augmented Reality

The software developed for the command centre is perhaps the most impressive part of the project, and gives us a brief look into what's possible. In this demo the user can quickly see live video from the real world scene, but the view could view anything they need, from drawings, to written reports.

VR AR Command Centre Virtual Reality Augmented Reality

The video also glimpses at another peice of tech which I love, and that's 3D scanning. In the video the command centre can see real-time updates from 3D scanned data. Presumably the area is scanned with a drone, and the point cloud data transmitted back to the virtual world.

VR AR Command Centre Virtual Reality Augmented Reality

If you're interested in this kind of tech, watch the video, it's seriously impressive stuff! I can't wait until this kind of project becomes mainstream, and eventually the norm, until then I'll just have to keep tinkering and experimenting with my own virtual worlds!

Dean

 

05/06/2015No Comments

Interactive Configurator Launched

Over the past few months, I have been working with a web development team to create a new interactive application, which utilises the flexibility of CGI with some web programming magic. We wanted to create an application to allow users to interactively configure anything, then share, save or print their configuration.

The application has been given it's own brand new website, check out www.constructandconfigure.com to see what all the fuss is about, and to play with the two demo applications.

The application is a "configurator" and has been designed to enable users to change finishes, features and other options by clicking on buttons to access menus. In the kitchen demo, the user can change the kitchen finish, the door handles and the worktops, but almost any visual element of a product, space or architecture could be configurable. In the kitchen demo we could if we wanted to add the ability to change the appliances, the stools, or even the floor and wall finishes. This is one reason why using 3D is great, we can create these CGI variations quickly, store them digitally, and present them in a way which is quick and easy for the end users to see.

The interactive kitchen demo application.

The application has been designed to work on most modern devices, PCs, laptops, tablets, smart phones, iPads and anything else with a modern web browser and a reasonably fast internet connection. We wanted to make the application accessible to as many people as possible, so it made sense to make the application run inside a web browser, without the need for any software downloads.

As standard, we have added 3 features to the app, save, print and share. The save button will download an image, overlaid with a description of the configuration, to your device. The print function simply prints the configuration, and again with a description so you know exactly the chosen configuration. The share button is perhaps the most complex function, but something we felt was required to allow users to share their configuration quickly and easily. When the user clicks the share button, a pop up window is displayed with a unique web address. The user can then highlight, copy and paste this address to Twitter, Facebook, email or anything else. When the address this then re-opened in a web browser, the users configuration is displayed. For this app we wanted to avoid user log-ins and passwords as we wanted the experience to be fast and user friendly, and using a unique web address works perfectly.

The app works on touch screen devices, as well as a traditional mouse.

We see this app to be primarily used to visualise and configure products. A sales team could use the application to show potential buyers the various configurations of their product, which may help the buyers visualise their potential purchase, and hopefully secure a sale. Similarly the app could be used in show rooms, where it's physically impossible to show all the product variations, but with the app customers could quickly and easily see any configuration they wish.

The application could be used by housing developers to show potential house buyers their new home, and then allow them to choose fixtures and finishes, which many house builders now allow. The possibilities for the app is limitless!

Use the app on the go, but be careful using it on 3G or 4G as data charges may occur!

The application has been fully custom made to suit our requirements. We did this for one important reason, we can modify, change, or add features to the application when required. The application is web based, and with the advances in HTML 5, more and more is possible. As an example we could add a clip board, user log-in, or even link the app with an e-commerce website allowing the users to purchase directly from the app.

View the configurator anywhere.

Currently the configurator doesn't allow the user to build products, they can't alter the kitchen layout for example, but this isn't why we created this application. In order to visualise the products in a photo realistic manor, the app uses pre-rendered CGI images, layered on top of each other to create the users configuration. Advances in real-time visualisation has shown we can create almost photo-real visuals using technology such as Unity 3D or the Unreal game engine, however using this kind of software means the users have to download plugins or software suitable for their device, which is something we didn't want to do. In the future I'm sure this will change, but for now we believe our current approach is the best way!

So head over to http://www.constructandconfigure.com and play with the application demos.

If you have any questions or comments about the configurator, please get in touch!

Dean

27/07/2012No Comments

Augmented Reality Testing & Development

During non-project time, I like to get stuck into some to something further my skills, improve my portfolio,  or sometimes to do something different. Recently I have been pondering the use of augmented reality applications.

I have always had an interest in real-time applications, mainly architectural walk-throughs or gaming, but augmented reality feels more exciting and more engaging than walk-thoughs. The idea that you can hold something digital in your hand, or view the world around us differently to what is perceived by our eyes, is a very strange concept. It's also something very hard to explain unless you can show someone, but I guess this is the same for 99% of new technology.

The other reason why I'm taking an interest to augmented reality is the craze with "3D" TVs and films. "3D" TV isn't really 3D, it's just some added effects to try to trick our brains into adding depth to what we are seeing, and to be honest, I think it ruins good films, and is a gimmick to sell bad films.

Augmented 3D, or even 2D, is different, and allows the user to see the content how ever they wish (to an extent). This for me is 3D, and this is what makes it exciting.

This quick video shows 3 examples I have put together to simply explore the workings and possibilities of actually making something useful and deliverable. The main aims for these test was to see how well it worked on various media, how quickly an app could be made and to try to see it's limitations. All of the tests are very basic, but each explores different techniques and features.

Ard Digital | Augmented Reality Test 01 from ArdDigital on Vimeo.

Ikea's 2013 catalogue looks like it will feature some augmented elements, as well as links to videos and other content. I believe this is Ikea's way to get customers to interact on-line and through their mobile, rather than using augmented reality as a tool, which is fair enough, so long as it engages and doesn't become tedious or boring.

So the future does look slightly more augmented, but will we see much more in the coming years? The technology is here and evolving fast, but maybe it needs a games console, film, or something else to really spark it off. Sony are creating the Wonderbook, a Harry Potter augmented story telling game, using a magical book, allowing the user to interact with the game. Maybe this will be a massive hit, or maybe it will pass by as simply "another game for kids". The possibilities of augmented reality, for me, are very interesting, and I can't wait to experience some real 3D in the coming years!

Be sure to keep an eye out on my blog for more updates, and testing, as I'm sure there's more to come!

 

Deano

 

Sources -

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/07/ikeas-augmented-reality-catalog-lets-you-peek-inside-the-malm/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18327724

18/05/2012No Comments

Mobile 3D Interactive Walk Through Test 001

Recently I have been exploring the use on 3D applications on mobile devices, and the first step was to build a basic scene, and test to see how well a 3D environment would work on a small mobile phone.

This is a quick video showing the test application which uses Unity3D to create an interactive first person walk-through on a basic smart phone. The phone used was the HTC Desire S.

Surprisingly, the demo runs very well, and although the HTC Desire S that I used is only a year old, it is by no means the most powerful smart phone out there. The release of the Galaxy S3 with it's more powerful dual core processor and slightly larger screen, is likely to be perfect for this type of hand held 3D application and, I'm sure pretty intensive 3D environments can be achieved as better and faster hardware is made available.

Also what was useful to learn from this demo was the navigation, which after only a few minutes of playing, I was able to quickly navigate around the environment. It also felt very comfortable and easy to use, which is very important.

This simple test gives a quick insight into the use of 3D applications on mobile devices. This demo was by no means a finished project, but a demo to show how it works, what it looks like, and how well 3D performs on an average smart phone. It was also good to try to figure out a work-flow for this type of project. Moving from 3Ds Max, to Unity3D, then to the mobile was tricky, but relatively straight forward after some testing.

If you would like to know more about this application, or would like to try it for yourself on your Android phone, please drop me an email!

As mentioned in the video, the 3D environment was created by Marko Dabrovic and can be downloaded here hdri.cgtechniques.com/~sponza/files/

15/03/2012No Comments

Interactive Test 002

Here is another interactive test, this time with a more traditional exterior environment.

Click here to have a play around!

I wanted to keep the emphasis on the building it's self, but also to explore some of the nice features of Unity Pro, and to see whether it is worth the price, or whether to stick with Unity Free. Unity Free is brilliant, and I love the fact that you could build an entire game just using the free version if you wanted to. However the features that Unity Pro has that are missing in the free version, are the lovely, juicy bit we all love, such as real-time shadows and post-effects.

In Interactive Test 001, I built the scene using 3Ds Max, Vray and Unity Free. With this test, I used 3Ds Max and Unity Free, and a very small amount of Vray (only for the reflection cube maps). With Unity Free, you don't have real-time shadows, so all the light info has to be rendered to a separate pass, and don't get me wrong, this can often be a great way of achieving great results, but the time spent unwrapping objects, tweaking UVs, rendering, and then realising that something isn't right, and going back through the whole process again and again can be very long and tedious. With Pro, you have real-time shadows, which eliminates the need to bake lighting, but can give flatter results, due to lack of GI, but for exterior environments like this, I think the advantages of real-time lighting out-weighs the benefits of baking lighting and GI. I may do a test with the Interactive Test 001 scene with real-time lighting, and see how they compare. I'm guessing the real-time version won't look as nice, but, the time saved might be the key to making this process one that could be put into a production work-flow.

So far I have barely touched the surface of what Unity can offer, but already I think I am achieving nice results, that should run across many different PC, and other platforms too such as iOS and Android. I am finding it hard however to program in any features, but the Unity forums are great and answer pretty much any question, whether or not I understand the answer!

I also had a quick play with the built in tree editor (hence the crappy trees, I need more practice!), which again added some nice flexibility, and the fact that they slightly move with some added wind, makes them a nice little touch. I added a quick function to hide the trees also just in-case they killed any PCs (please let me know if you have any trouble with the file!) but this also made me realise how useful real-time shadows are, as when the trees are hidden, the shadows also hide, something that would be very tedious, although do-able, with baked lighting.

So, that's test 002 done, let me know what you think, what would be nice to add and to do, and whether or not you can brake it!

And before anyone asks, I really don't know if the Pro version is worth the extra cash over the free, I guess a few more tests and I might be able to tell you!

Updates will follow!

 

Deano

 

 

 

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

USEFUL LINKS

Site Map
Privacy Policy

Punch Infinity
Switch
Archive
Contact
Subscribe

INSTAGRAM FEED

instagram-image
instagram-image
instagram-image
instagram-image

PUNCH DIGITAL

Punch Digital Services Ltd

Registered Office :
Peel Walker
11 Victoria Road
Elland
HX5 0AE

Company No:
07938732

VAT No:
GB 282 4398 77